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The Clopton Chronicles

A Project of the Clopton Family Genealogical Society

 

 

 

AN HONORABLE AND CONTRITE HEART

 

 

Regarding

 

The Honorable William Capers Clopton

 

By Suellen Clopton Blanton,[1] bblanton@fast.net

 

 

Over Seventeen

 

At five feet, nine inches,

the lanky youth was happily accepted

with no questions asked.

 

Certainly there is no more interesting character in the Clopton pantheon than William Capers Clopton.[2]  At the start of the American Civil War, three of his older brothers[3] were serving in the Confederate Army, and Capers,[4] the youngest, wanted desperately to join them.  In 1865 he could stand it no longer, and ran away from his home in Helena, Arkansas at the tender age of twelve and threw himself enthusiastically into what was by then, a lost cause.[5]  As the Confederacy gasp its last breath the army was so desperate for men to fill the rapidly dwindling ranks they accepted the very young and the very old.  It was a favorite trick of the youngsters to write the number “17” on a piece of paper and slip it into their shoe.  When asked to state their ages, they would reply with all the sincerity they could muster, that they were “over seventeen.”[6]  At five feet, nine inches, the lanky youth was happily accepted with no questions asked.  His war was to last only a few months, but the boys from Arkansas fought valiantly until they surrendered in May, fully four weeks after General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House, Virginia.

Paroled at Wittsburg, Arkansas, May 25, Capers returned home.  But whatever joy he may have felt was quickly erased; his widowed mother died June 6, twelve days after his release.  Under the guidance of his siblings, he proved to be an adept, indeed, brilliant student.  At a very early age he studied at the Universities of Tennessee, Virginia, and Columbia.  By eighteen he was at Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin, and serving as a correspondent for The New York Times and The New York World. [7]

He returned to the United States and began to practice law in 1877.[8]  His career blossomed, and at forty, he was nominated to be a Justice of the Supreme Court but declined the honor.[9]   The Honorable Sam Littlepage recommended to President Woodrow Wilson[10] that he be named ambassador to Japan.   Judge Littlepage described Judge Clopton as “one of the ablest constitutional lawyers in the United States and one of the soundest and most widely educated men I ever knew.”  And Lord knows President Wilson could have used a few sound and able minds in the ranks of his ambassadors.   Attempting to reverse the practice of naming “the merely rich who were clamoring for them,” and recognizing that diplomatic service was growing more exacting and more important, President Wilson had promised to name only the best and brightest to ambassadorships.  Alas, he was forced to ultimately yield to political pressure and rewarded the progressive Democratic leaders in Pennsylvania with the appointment of Roland S. Morris and then George W. Guthrie as Ambassador to the Japanese Empire.[11]

All of Judge Clopton’s considerable ability as a constitutional lawyer would have been called into play had he served as the Japanese Ambassador instead of the merely adequate Morris and Guthrie.  Californians had become deeply alarmed by the Japanese inundation of their state following the Russo-Japanese War in 1905.  Fearful that California would become a “Japanese plantation,” the California Assembly in 1913 adopted an alien land bill which barred persons “ineligible to citizenship” from land ownership. [12]  This threw the Japanese into a snit and pitted the United States Government against the State of California in a constitutional Two Step.  The Japanese threatened to send the Imperial fleet to California and the United States actually began to seriously contemplate a war with Japan.  Although war on this front did not materialize, the diplomatic failure on the part of the Americans tainted Japanese-American relations for years to come.[13]

 

 

Brilliant Company

 

His New York home

became a rendezvous

for famous violinists of the day.

 

Although he earned many well deserved accolades for his outstanding legal achievements, he also garnered attention for his collection of rare violins, considered one of the finest in the world.  Valued at $500,000 at the time of his death, he collected the instruments during his travels abroad.[14]  His New York home became a rendezvous for famous violinists of the day.   Emanuel Ondricek and his brother, Stanislav,[15] of the famous Czechoslovakian family of violinists found their way to his door.  As a violin virtuoso, Emanuel gave concerts in Russia, the Balkans, Pest, Vienna, Berlin and London, and made a successful tour of the United States.  In Boston and New York he founded the Ondricek Studios of Violin Art, where his sisters, Mary and Augusta, also taught.  Shortly before his death he was appointed professor of violin at Boston University.  Stanislav was a violin teacher in Russia, Zagreb and New York.

Eugene Ysaye, one of the foremost violinists of his time was a frequent guest.[16]  He studied the violin from the age of four with his father, who was himself a violinist and conductor.  As an adult he achieved brilliant success in eight tours of the United States beginning in 1894.  In 1918 he was named conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra  which he directed through 1922.  He was considered one of the most outstanding violinist in the world.

This breathtaking ensemble of guests included Henri Marteau,[17] the Swedish violinist, composer and conductor of French birth.  From 1893 to 1899 he toured in the United States, Sweden and Russia.  He was regarded as one of the greatest violinists of his time, noted especially for his brilliant interpretation of Mozart, whose complete violin works he played at a time when they were not often performed.

Judge Clopton’s generosity was not limited to the famous.  A talented young man was allowed to not only view the violin collection but to play one of the precious instruments.  Upon expressing his admiration and desire to own it,  the astonished young man was given the violin as a gift.[18]

 

 

The Sweetest Communion

 

Be diligent in your studies and seek the truth.

 

 

His legal gifts were celebrated, his violin collection envied, but ultimately, he knew where his real treasures lay, as evidenced in the words of a letter he wrote to his sons,[19] which reads in part:

 

All you need is an honorable and sincere, nay, a contrite heart, filled with love and leniency and respect for your fellow man, doing unto him as you would have him do unto you.

Be diligent in your studies and seek the truth.

Be sure to keep your minds free from prejudice and envy, for they are expensive guests to entertain.

Man’s sweetest and most prolific communion is with a good wife, who understands him, and who shares with him his ambitions and labors.  A man can claim little respect who is not absolutely faithful, loving and attentive to a good wife.

 

 

                By the time of his death in a suite of rooms at the luxurious Hotel Stafford in Baltimore, Judge Clopton had come a long way from Holly Springs Mississippi.  It is deeply troubling to note his wife, the registered informant on his death certificate, did not know the names of either his mother or his father.  Had he come so far and learned so much and achieved such greatness that he did not speak of his heritage, he, the grandson of the colorful Anthony Clopton and Rhoda Hoggatt?[20]

 

 

JUDGE W. C. CLOPTON DEAD

 

Jurist Owned a Collection of Rare

Violins Valued at $500,000.

Special to The New York Times.

 

BALTIMORE, Md., March 12 – Judge William Capet [Capers] Clopton, jurist, soldier, traveler and owner of a collection of rare violins valued at $500,000, is dead at his apartment in the Hotel Stafford here, in his seventy-fourth year.

Judge Clopton had made his residence in Baltimore for the last ten years, after a life abroad, where he collected his rare musical instruments.

He was born in Mississippi and traced his lineage directly to Sir Francis Drake.  Educated in Southern universities, he took post graduate courses at Columbia and at Friedrich Wilheim University in Berlin.

According to his autobiography, Judge Clopton was a correspondent for The New York World and The New York Times in Berlin at the age of 18.  Returning to this country he practiced law from 1877 to 1898.

                At the age of 40 he was nominated for Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, but declined the honor.

                Funeral services will be held at St. Ignatius’s Catholic Church tomorrow.  Burial will be in St. Louis.

 

 

 

 

 

               

 

        1.  William Capers21 Clopton, C.S.A.  (John Hoggatt "Jack"20, Anthony19, Benjamin18, Walter17, William16, William15, Walter14, William13, Richard12, William11, John10, William9, Thomas8, Walter7, William6, Walter5, William4, Walter3, William2, Guillaume1 Peche, Lord Of Cloptunna and Dalham) was born March 16, 1853 in Holly Springs, Mississippi1, and died March 12, 1926 in Hotel Stafford, Baltimore, Maryland and buried March 14, 1926 Belfontaine Cemetery, St. Louis, Missouri2.  He married (1) Mary Frances Garth Bef. 1879, daughter of David Garth and Susan Chapman.  She died June 9, 1895.  He married (2) Louise Espenschied Aft. 19003, daughter of Louis Espenscheid and Catherine von Paul.  She died Aft. 19264.

 

Children of William Clopton and Mary Garth are:

        2                 i.    William Garth22 Clopton, born August 10, 1879.  He married Mary Dunlap July 1901.

        3                ii.    Waldegrave Wythe Clopton.

 

 

Endnotes

 

1.  Biographical Directory of the State of New York, 1900, p. 77, His law practice was located 41 Wall Street and he resided at 57 West 69th Street.

2.  New York Times,  (New York City, New York), March 13, 1926, p. 17, column 4, (Courtesy of Bert Hampton Blanton, Jr.)  Baltimore Health Department Bureau of Vital Statistics, Certificate of Death, Number E-08276.  The informant is Louise Espenschied Clopton.  The typed name reads William "Capet" Clopton.  The name of his father and mother, unknown.  Copy located Clopton Family Archives courtesy of Lee Evans, Archival Assistant, Maryland State Archives.

3.  New York Biographical Directory, p. 77, The directory, published in 1900, states he is unmarried.

4.  She is the informant on his death certificate.

 

 

 

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[1]An Honorable and Contrite Heart  is an excerpt from The Ancestors and Descendants of Sir Thomas Clopton, Knight & Dame Katherine Mylde, and is the property of the Clopton Family Genealogical Society which holds the copyright on this material.  Permission is granted to quote or reprint articles for noncommercial use provided credit is given to the CFGS and to the author.   Prior written permission must be obtained from the Society for commercial use.

An Honorable and Contrite Heart is based on a lengthy article about him from the Memphis Commercial Appeal, dated Sunday, September 22, 1918, unless otherwise noted.

Suellen (Clopton) DeLoach Blanton is Founder and Executive Director of The Clopton Family Genealogical Society & Clopton Family Archives.

The Society wishes to thank Bert Hampton Blanton, Jr.; Sally W. Burkman, Documents Librarian, Social Science Reference Center, Firestone Library, Princeton University; Paul Connor, Reference Librarian, Library of Congress, Local History & Genealogy, Washington, D. C.; John M. Coski, Historian, Eleanor S. Brockenbrough Library, The Museum of the Confederacy, Virginia; Judith A. Drescher, Director, Memphis Shelby County Public Library and Information Center; Lee Evans, Archival Assistant, Maryland State Archives; Christina L. Gerwitz, Archival Technician, Archives of the United States of America; Patricia M. LaPointe, Curator, Memphis & Shelby County Room, Memphis Shelby County Public Library and Information Center;  and, Rosemary Nelms, The Commercial Appeal News Library.

Also thanks to Clopton descendants James M. McMillen, M.S.;  Helen Elizabeth (Clopton) Polk Mosby;  and, Isabel Lancaster (Clopton) Steiner.

[2] The son of John Hoggatt “Jack” Clopton, Sr., and his wife, Matilda Caroline Drake, an abbreviated genealogy follows.   For a complete genealogy of this Clopton line, see The Descendants of Walter Clopton, The Elder, of “Callowell” & His Wife Mary Jarratt

[3] Hoggatt, Jesse, and James, see A Right Smart Fight

[4] Although the rest of the world knew him as William C. Clopton, the family called him Uncle Capers.

[5] His service records state he is a private in Company K, 1 (Dobbin’s) Arkansas Cavalry.  He is listed as a prisoner of war belonging to the Army of the Northern Sub-District of Arkansas, and surrendered on the 11th day of May, 1865, by Brigadier General M. Jeff. Thompson, C.S.A., commanding said Army, to Major General G. M. Dodge, U.S.A., commanding Department of the Missouri.  He is paroled at Wittsburg, Arkansas, Mary 25, 1865.  He enlisted at Helena, Arkansas, age 17, eyes, gray, hair dark, complexion fair.  States he was born in Texas, but this is not true.  A copy from microfilm M-317, roll #2, from the National Archives is located Clopton Family Archives, courtesy of Suellen (Clopton) DeLoach Blanton.

[6] Bruce Catton, Reflections on the Civil War, Edited by John Leekley, Promontory Press, 1998.

[7] New York Times, Obituary Notice, March 13, 1926, p. 17, column 4.  Also New York Biographical Directory, Library of Congress F118-B6, 1900, p. 77

[8] His entry in the New York Biographical Directory of 1900 states he is a lawyer practicing at 41 Wall Street, New York City; resident at 56 West 69th Street.  He was at that time unmarried and a member of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, Democratic Club, Southern Society, “and others.”

[9] Judge Clopton turned forty on March 16, 1893.  Grover Cleveland became president on March 4, 1893 following the March 3rd death of  Benjamin Harrison.  Cleveland first the twenty-second president (1885-1889) and again after Harrison’s death (1893-1897) as the country’s twenty-fourth president.  Doranne Jacobson, Presidents and First Ladies of the United States, Todtri Productions Limited, New York, 1995, p. 66-69.

[10] Jacobson, Presidents and First Ladies, p. 78, Woodrow Wilson, who was born December 29, 1856 at Staunton, Virginia, was a fellow Democrat and served as the twenty-eighth president from March 4, 1913 until March 3, 1921

[11] Arthur S. Link, Wilson The New Freedom, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1956, p.101-102

[12] Link, Wilson The New Freedom, p. 289-304

[13] Arthur S. Link, Wilson The Struggle for Neutrality, 1914-1915, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1960, p. 267

[14] New York Times obituary

[15] Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Stanley Sadie, Editor, Macmillan Publishers Limited, London, 1980, Volume 13, p. 541-542.  Emanuel Ondricek  (born Plzen, Czechoslovakia , December 6, 1880; died Boston, Massachusetts); and Stanislav Ondricek (born Prague, Czechoslovakia, August 23, 1885; died Prague, July 16, 1953).  They were the sons of Jan Ondricek, a gifted violinist and conductor.  Of his fifteen children, six would outlive him as professional violinists.

[16] Grove Dictionary of Music, Volume 20, p.582-583.  Eugene (or Auguste) Ysaye (born Liege, Belgian, July 16, 1858; died Brussels, May 12, 1931).   His brother, Theophile Ysaye was an accomplished composer, pianist and conductor, although his work was overshadowed by his elder brother.

[17] Grove Dictionary of Music, Volume 11, p. 710-711.  Henri Marteau (born Rheims, France, March 31, 1874; died Lichtenberg, Germany, October 3, 1934).

[18] According to the 1918 article appearing in the Commercial Appeal, he at one time promised J. P. Morgan he would donate his collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York but later decided he would give it to a Tennessee museum.  It is unknown what ultimately happened to his magnificent collection.

[19] The letter is, strangely enough,  included in the John Clopton Papers, 1629 (1775-1897) 1915, Collection Number 1115, 11,890 items and 26 volumes, is located in the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Manuscript Department, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.  This excerpt from the letter, no date given, appeared in the Clopton Family Newsletter, August 1990, p. 14-15.